Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:
Two Kinds of Wisdom
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Submit Yourselves to God
4:1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
4You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
11Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
Wisdom was a very important idea to the Hebrew people, a lot more important than it is to people in our culture. We think anything that’s new and novel is more valuable than something old and established, and that what the young think is ‘way more valid that what older people think. So our appreciation of wisdom is minimal. But not so with the Hebrews. Their scriptures – what we call “the Old Testament” – had a whole category of books that the scholars call “wisdom literature.”
Actually, there are quite a few places in the Old Testament where Wisdom is discussed as a manifestation of God’s presence in the world – it’s not that different from the way we talk about the Holy Spirit. And that manifestation is almost always discussed in feminine terms. In fact, you might remember that at one point in the gospel of Luke (7:35), Jesus quoted a Hebrew saying that “Wisdom is proved right by her children.”
The reverence people in the Hebrew culture had for wisdom probably reflects the respect they had for older and more experienced people. That’s obviously not nearly as prevalent in our time and place. There’s a presumption in our culture that older people have little of value to contribute. Advertising routinely portrays older people as foolish and ‘out of it.’
Which is kind of a shame, because genuine wisdom as the Bible understands it doesn’t have much to do with whether you can use all the functions of your cell phone.
The truth is that wisdom can come at any age, but seems to go along with thought and reflection. And appreciating wisdom probably requires distinguishing among three ideas that sometimes blur together: information, knowledge and wisdom.
Information can be understood as raw data. Our smart phones give us access a staggering amount of information. Facts and figures on world petroleum output or the winner of the Pulitzer prize for literature in 1960 or what the error codes on your car’s engine control mean. But a lot of that information is only of value in trivia contests unless you know how to use it meaningfully.
Knowledge, I would say, is the ability to use the information on some subject in a way that’s useful. The ability to use petroleum production to forecast economic cycles. The ability to analyze what literature reflects about society in its time. The ability to design new or more efficient engines for cars. Knowledge involves organizing and using information to make it useful.
But wisdom, it seems to me, is more. It’s the capacity for using knowledge to advance the welfare of people – to promote human flourishing. A wise person knows how to take knowledge about the world and use it to make people’s lives better.
That’s probably why God has guided his people to an appreciation for wisdom – because God has always been concerned with the welfare of his people, and God has often used the wise to help his people flourish, both materially and spiritually.
Which brings us to this passage from the Letter of James we’re thinking about today. And when you read what James has written in the passage, everything in it holds the potential to shape the lives of the followers of Jesus in a way that can make them flourish – both as individuals and as the body of Jesus at work in the world.
It’s good to have information – you can learn to use it in lots of ways. It’s good to have knowledge – you can do useful things in the world. But it’s far better to have wisdom, because with wisdom you can join God in improving the lives of others. And when it comes to the kind of wisdom James is writing about here, that wisdom can make the love of God known in the lives of others. That wisdom can help bring people into a closer and more personal relationship with God.
And nothing can promote human flourishing more than that.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for the technology that gives us access to so much information. We thank you for those who have the knowledge to apply that information in ways that are useful to us. But we thank you especially for those who have the wisdom to help others flourish, and especially to flourish in their relationships with you. By your Spirit, promote true and godly wisdom in us. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The listed readings for today are Psalms 81 and 116; Malachi 2:1-16; James 4:13-5:6; and Luke 17:20-37. Our readings come from the NIV Bible, as posted on Biblica.com, the website of the International Bible Society.)